Food for tots: Central kitchen for pre-schools

Amid a shortage of cooks, pre-school centres turn to food prepared at Sats Catering

Lunch at TwinkleKidz@ Bendemeer. Among 33 pre-school centres involved in a trial, 26 have signed a year-long contract.
Lunch at TwinkleKidz@ Bendemeer. Among 33 pre-school centres involved in a trial, 26 have signed a year-long contract. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

A group of pre-school centres is working with a central kitchen to provide meals for their charges, to overcome a shortage of cooks.

The food is prepared at Sats Catering and delivered to the pre-schools before mealtimes, as hiring and retaining kitchen staff remains a challenge for pre-schools.

Yesterday, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say visited TwinkleKidz@Bendemeer and observed the meal catering service in the full-day centre for infants and children.

He also heard from pre-school directors about how the central kitchen approach has helped them.

Mr Xu Yijue, 39, director of TwinkleKidz@Bendemeer, said preparing meals for an entire centre is a laborious affair - as the cook is in charge of planning the menu, buying groceries, serving meals and washing dishes. As a result, the job has a high attrition rate.

Over at the Cherie Hearts pre-school in Changi Business Park, the centre was not able to find a new cook after its previous one retired.

Said centre director Susan Loke, 50: "It was very hard trying to find a replacement. We even tried to hire a work permit holder for the job but she did not last long as well."

The pre-school then asked its infant care assistant, Madam Eileen Toh, 61, to stand in. Madam Toh said her cooking duties took up four hours of her nine-hour shift.

"I had to cook for the whole centre, which has about 100 children and 20 adults. I usually started my day earlier (because) I needed to buy groceries from the supermarket," she said.

With the catering service, Madam Toh now spends just 30 minutes to serve the meals and clean up after the children are done.

She now assists the pre-school teachers to look after the children, and will be attending an infant massage course soon.

Ms Loke said the centre will redesign Madam Toh's job scope so that she can assist in other areas, now that she no longer has to cook.

A three-month trial of the meal catering service was started in September last year among 33 pre-school centres with a total enrolment of about 2,000 children.

Of these centres, 26 have signed a year-long contract to continue the service. Three new centres that were not in the original trial have also come on board.

Mr Robert Leong - vice-chairman of the Association of Early Childhood and Training Services (Assets), which worked with the Employment and Employability Institute to develop the catering service - said the association worked on easing the shortage of cooks as the topic was often raised in discussions.

Other upcoming projects for the early-childhood sector include shared schoolbus services for pre-schools in the same zone.

The efforts come under the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme, which encourages small and medium-sized enterprises to be more manpower-lean by innovating and automating certain processes.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline Food for tots: Central kitchen for pre-schools. Subscribe